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Carnival newbie tip: Thank your carnival veteran.

By Posted on 4min read52 views

Dear carnival newbie, If you are blessed to have a carnival veteran take you on your first carnival experience, they deserve ALL THE FLOWERS.  I have taken a few people out on their first experience, and it came with some challenges and lessons learned for the baby masquerader and me.  

Veteran masqueraders do this out of love of Carnival and the desire to see others enjoy it.  It fills my heart to watch a newbie’s eyes widen and witness the transformation that occurs with the rhythms coming from the truck and the infectious joy in the atmosphere.  It is heartwarming when they say, “I now understand why you love this so much.”

But it’s also very tiring.  And I have been in situations where I was left to feel seriously unappreciated.  So I will share what I go through as a veteran in hopes that you understand how hefty the task can be.

We are your teacher and mentor.

carnival newbie mentor pic
Side note, I miss this hair.

A great mentor will teach you what Carnival is about and why we play mas.  I have spent countless hours sending links for carnival newbies to read. I have fielded questions and demystified many misunderstandings. I have often helped newbies pick their costumes, make recommendations on what to pack, wear, and recommend products I feel would work for them. I have even given recommendations on footwear and also functioned as a personal fashion consultant, while still having to organize myself.  Although it is definitely easier to me as a veteran, it is also time-consuming.

We are your travel agent and concierge.

The experienced carnival-goer typically coordinates lodging and a car rental.  They give the heads up on which fete tickets to buy, and recommend which band to register with. They usually find the makeup artist for you. The experienced masquerader is likely the one who gets in town first, collecting a handful of carnival costumes to return to the hotel.  They go through every package on your behalf, making sure nothing is missing, you got everything you paid for, and raise hell on your behalf when you don’t.  Getting one costume in a bag with feathers is a task in itself.  Pay special props to the veteran willing to scoop up several in one trip.

Sometimes we are your seamstress.

carnival newbie tips
Carnival vets have learned to be innovative with costume repairs and hacks. Click this photo to learn about how I make my pasties.

Like a good carnival newbie, you packed a masquerader kit.  While a glue gun is self-explanatory, you haven’t the slightest idea how to work a needle and thread. We got you. I remember one night staying up to fix a costume while my crew slept, even rearranging bad feather work.  I did this because it was her first time, and I wanted her to feel her best and have the best possible experience.

Many new masqueraders won’t understand how to bend the wire to shape a headpiece, backpack, or wire bra.  Veterans led the way, showing you how to do all this and put on your costume.

Carnival vets put you first.

If you are a carnival newbie, getting ready for the day can be stressful.  Sometimes we help you get dressed first, or dress early so that we can help.  We will remind you to put some sunscreen on, drink water, and eat breakfast when you are nervous.  We will provide you with time hacks, know when the roads are closing, and have mapped out the best route to get to the parade. Many times we function as your photographer. 

While we are on the road, we will watch over you while having our fun and check in to ensure that all is going well for you. We make sure you eat, drink, and sometimes function as a security guard when you don’t know how to handle a stormer or politely curve a w(h)ine.

Supporting your carnival mentor.

Taking a carnival newbie under your wings can be daunting, but here are some things that you can do to reciprocate support:

  1. Follow their instructions, and trust there is a reason behind everything. 
  2. Be patient.  Sometimes our nerves are running high the morning of right along with you. 
  3. Pay attention. When it’s time to get on the road, know that what is taught should not have to be taught again.  Expect to do what is shown for yourself later. For example, if your leg piece falls, you can fix it yourself. 
  4. Remember that while your mentor is there for you, many things cannot be controlled.  In other words, costume distribution, road experience, food, and drinks are up to the band.  We would never intentionally lead you into a lackluster experience. Save your frustrations for the band, and don’t take it out on your mentor.

In conclusion, guiding the carnival newbie into their first experience is a labor of love.  Have you thanked your carnival mentor lately? Be sure to send them your love and appreciation. I would even recommend treating them to a few drinks or a meal.  It’s a lot of work!

To learn about my must-have items as a masquerader, click here.

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Attitudes that contribute to the dilution of the Caribbean carnival culture

By Posted on 5min read131 views

A beautiful culture and the reality of consumerism.

Soca and carnival blended together produce one of the most beautiful and euphoric experiences that simply cannot be put into words. It has to ability to unify people, and LITERALLY change someone’s life (as it did mine).  Over the years there has been a lot of discussion about “culture vultures” and how to preserve the integrity of the culture while sharing it with the world.  Amongst these discussions I have bore witness to several attitudes that I personally feel contribute to the misappropriation of Caribbean Carnival. I don’t believe that any person intentionally chooses to dilute the cultural experience, and I will also admit that I am also guilty of at least one of these. Please do not take what I have to say as judgement toward anyone, but afford yourself the opportunity to think critically on how your attitudes/perceptions about Caribbean carnival may be contributing to cultural dilution.

#1: We're all Black.

Atlantic Slave Trade Volume and Desitations from 1701-1810.

This is a common statement that I have read through social media discussions. The history books show that we pretty much all come from the same continent, but let’s bear in mind that this is not a discussion of CULTURE, not origin. Because we all come from different cultures and sub-sets of such, we can all agree that we were brought up completely differently from one another. With our different cultures comes with unique struggles and experiences that we may or may not be able to relate to.  I do believe the statement that “we’re all black” can demonstrate defensiveness (for some) and an unwillingness to have meaningful and sometimes uncomfortable discussions about the common things we share and the things that we don’t.  Insisting to engage in a culture that is foreign to you while palancing under the excuse of worldwide blackness takes attention away from the true meaning of its customs, and is an example as to how cultural practices can be forgotten.

#2: It’s just a flag.

AWM exists to not only spread understanding about the Caribbean carnival culture, but to also let people from all walks of life know that it is indeed okay to come as you are and wave your own flag.  There are a lot of reasons why people wave flags that are not their own.  Some of these reasons include the desire to represent friends and loved ones. I don’t think any person would have objections to that, but there are some people that feel they should be able to pick an island country flag to wave for the sake of the experience.  That is something I cannot agree with.

I can’t imagine what it is like to view someone take an island-country flag to wave at a fete or carnival to only throw it in the trash when it is all said and done. “They want our culture, but not our struggle” is what comes to mind when I see this. A “piece of cloth” belonging to an island-country resembles more than just colors, rather its rich culture, the beautiful, and not-so-beautiful things embodying. So whenever you choose to carry a flag that is not your own, I hope you have a genuine discussion with yourself as to why you are doing and what that means when you choose to do so.

#3: It’s just something fun to do.

Caribmask 2019 Raleigh
Raleigh, NC (Caribmask) with Unity Mas Band 2019

I was guilty of this for the first two years of playing mas.  No, I didn’t literally say this to someone, but I did generalize the experience as something fun to do, and not much else.  It wasn’t until after my second jump in Atlanta that I stopped myself and asked if I even knew the rich history behind what I was doing.  What also prompted me to rethink my participation in Caribbean Carnival was the lines of questioning that I received from friends and family that I could not clearly articulate an informational response. That bothered me… A LOT.  

People outside looking in that know absolutely nothing about carnival see an overly sexualized experience and not much else.  As a masquerader I felt a personal responsibility to know enough to educate those who asked to help propel a culture which I immersed myself in from time-to-time.  When we engage in anything without understanding why it exists in the first place, we are unknowingly contributing to the misconceptions and commercialization of the culture.

#4: Do it for the ‘gram.

Seems like nowadays a lot of people will do almost anything for a like or for traction on social media.  Carnival is a beautiful thing and deserves to be captured and shared. But I’m sure if you are reading this you already know of at least once person that takes interest in Carnival purely for the photos, or the opportunity to monetize or receive some kind of benefit.  The desire to be seen or benefit clouds the cultural significance of Caribbean carnival and propagates the oversexualization and pure commercial consumption of the culture without giving enough energy to its preservation.

#5: I’ll never openly talk about playing mas.

I’m guilty.  I’m SO guilty.  When I first played mas, not understanding the cultural significance caused me to hide a little bit. I thought this experience as something fun and a bit sexy to do, and the “sexy” aspect created conflict with the construct of good order and discipline of my military service. I and had no idea how I was going to be able to live life as a masquerader and a commissioned officer at the same time.  I treated Carnival as something I should only talk about during my down-time and as something I would not mention at work.  I was afraid how people would perceive me professionally so I was an undercover masquerader for the first couple of years, only posting photos to social media without much context. Learning about the culture helped me deal with the masquerader life and allowed me to discuss the cultural experience openly, even in uniform, and with my leadership. Affording people the opportunity to ask questions that could be answered clearly did not necessarily change minds about the cultural activity, but it at least educated many people that had so many misconceptions.

Forward Thinking.

I do not believe cultural preservation and promotion should sit on the shoulders of a masquerader. I do also acknowledge how consumerism and commercialism drives the intentions of an industry. We all know THAT is one huge subject to unpack and to be frankly honest with you, I don’t think I have the scope to even speculate on that further. But from the view that I feel comfortable speaking on, I do truly believe that there are ways we should respectfully enjoy and help scaffold the advancement of a culture that is not our own, especially when we enjoy it as much as we do.

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It’s okay to be a non-Caribbean and play mas.

By Posted on 3min read158 views

Now, before we dive deep into this subject, let me preface this that this is not a discussion to disparage people who choose to not represent their origins. To each his/her own. I do, however, want to keep you focused on the most important, which is: IT DOESNT MATTER WHERE YOU’RE FROM.

I remember my conversation with my sister like it was yesterday. There she was: hobbling into my house barefoot singing praises of her first carnival experience. She was glowing as she told me about how she initially felt out of place as an African American. She told me that a masquerader just told her to pick and Island that she wanted to be from, and she chose to be from Antigua for a day.

Even though I had never played mas at the time, the concept of owning another island to blend into the experience mentally just did not jam with me at all. When I finally played mas with my sister for the first time, I understood why she might have initially felt that way. Caribbean Mas is a celebration of freedom, life, and an affirmation of survival expressed in one of the most artistic means known to man. On top of that, flags from the Caribbean islands danced gently in the breeze off the trucks and hips of proud masqueraders. I understood why she felt out of place.

As the years passed, I still couldn’t get myself to wave a flag from which I was not, or say I was from anywhere else otherwise. I’m An African American anywhere I go and completely okay with that.

In 2017 I came up with the idea of bringing my own flag. I have to admit, I was a bit nervous as I wondered how it would be received.

Guess what? Nobody cared. In fact, over time, I began to run into other people happily wearing their American flags. I received hugs and greetings from West Indian masqueraders who wanted to tell me it was terrific that I proudly represented my background. I found myself taking photos with other masqueraders happily waving their American flags. Those experiences are precisely why American Wines Matter was born!

When you play mas, you will see flags from all over the world and not just the Caribbean. The beautiful thing about representing who you’re from is that you will come to realize that carnival in its very essence embodies the human spirit, immense joy, and the spiritual unity of many souls from various cultural backgrounds.

Carnival is about an affirmation of survival, a festival of the joy and sadness life brings. Carnival pays homage to our ancestors and the people that came before us laying the foundations (in blood, sweat, and tears) for the liberties that we enjoy now. As an African American, I think back on family members detailing stories of being bitten by dogs and sprayed with water hoses to end segregation. I think about my family members who are victims of the school to prison pipeline, stripped of their rights to vote over simple felonies that are now legal. I think about the victims of police brutality, and a young boy carrying skittles that didn’t get to go home to his mother because he was black while wearing a hoodie. I think about the racial tensions in America and reflect on the social injustices that infect this country. I am who I am 24/7 and I will not abandon that even for a few hours.

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Freeing the Cheeks.

By Posted on 2min read58 views

I remember the first time I played mas with We Kinda Ting in 2015. I was approaching 180 pounds, had underestimated my weight gain and should have ordered a large panty. I didn’t feel good about doing this at ALL.

This was my sister’s second jump and so I relied on her heavily being the newbie between the two of us. She was completely unphased by what she saw, but all of my senses were overloaded.

Things hadn’t even started yet, but the music was infectious and the energy in the air addictive. I kept looking around at all of the women of different shapes, sizes and walks of life. Here I was feeling some kind of way about my body until…..

I saw a plus-sized masquerader in a THONG.

She looked so beautiful, confident and free. And even though my medium panty was holding on for dear life, seeing her put some things in perspective: That I had no need to feel insecure out there. All bodies were beautiful. So I let go and became addicted to playing mas right then and there. I know before we even started the parade that this was something I would be doing again.

But wearing a thong illuded me over the years. Even after significant weight loss and lifestyle changes, the thought of my cheeks in the breeze made me a little nervous. People know me best that I don’t like being scared of anything, so I told myself that I would set out to try it out sometime.

It wasn’t until Miami Carnival 2019 with Ramajay Mas that I decided that I was going to finally try it out.

Long story short, I don’t know why the concept of wearing a thong was so scary. It wasn’t anywhere near as daunting once I put the costume on.

A few things I immediately appreciated:

  1. It was VERY comfortable. I didn’t have to worry about constantly digging out my wedgies on the road.
  2. I didn’t have to worry about the bottom migrating in places it wasn’t supposed to be.
  3. I didn’t have to worry about wedgie-chaffing.
  4. A nice even tan on my bamsee. I didn’t look like a porn star when I got off the road.

Chances are if you have played mas before, you have experienced the one side of the panty up the bum, or both. Might as well just rock a thong.

The main thing I didn’t appreciate about wearing a thong bottom was that bare bamsee on grass or concrete wasn’t very comfortable. Depending on how long your jump is, you might want to consider using your flag or a rag to sit on for rest stops.

By all means, if you prefer more coverage, do you! But if you haven’t worn a thong because of fear, trust and believe there is nothing to be scared of. You’ll be amazed at how much more comfortable you will be!

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